Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A tree hugger (me) says his piece

I’ve considered myself a tree hugger since my teen years and membership in an Explorer post in Pocatello, Idaho, sponsored by the Idaho Fish and Game Department. My father, who was himself a great conservationist (which being a tree hugger is synonymous with), would drive me to the monthly post meetings that were conducted in a building on the Idaho State University campus, where he was a professor.
That was four-and-half decades ago. I’ve logged a lot of miles on hiking trails since then, some in the Gem State, many in New York’s Adirondack Park, and a bunch more in Virginia, Georgia, Oklahoma, Washington State, Oregon, and in three overseas countries thanks to a career in the Air Force.
For at least a half-century – and certainly from the darkest days of the Cold War – many politicians have dedicated themselves (and the tax dollar) to soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen – and the weapons, ships, vehicles and aircraft they train and fight with.
I rehashed all this in my own veteran’s mind last week after listening to the Kingston Trio (a circa mid-1960s folk music ensemble) sing Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie’s “The Sinking of the Reuben James.”
The destroyer USS Reuben James, history recorded, was the first U.S. Navy ship to be sunk by hostile action early in World War II, going down off the coast of Iceland after being struck by a German U-boat’s torpedo.
Guthrie and Seeger’s song begins: “have you heard of a ship called the good Reuben James, manned by hard fighting men both of honor and fame? She flew the stars and stripes of this land of the free . . .”
I then turned a page to the President Reagan era and smiled at the memory of driving an actual old-fashioned pre-Humvee-era Jeep while on temporary duty in Honduras in early 1984.
Sure, many of today’s politicians, even those in the Republican-dominated House, know American military history pretty well. And just as many of the elder class of congressman gave many a speech to keep military bases in their districts from being closed once we emerged as victors of the Cold War. I remember fielding questions from the news media again and again about the future of Plattsburgh Air Force Base, N.Y., the Strategic Air Command base at which I served as public affairs officer 1986-88.
Yet, hardly any politician recognizes today’s big threat to military installations – principally those on our coasts; at least to the point of publicly talking about it. The independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont is among the lawmakers who understand what global warming is and the science behind what is also referred to as climate change. Full disclosure: I voted to re-elect Sanders last November.
Seven decades after the Reuben James went to the bottom of the Atlantic, the threat today has no governmental entity driving it.
Far from it.
We humans are behind the melting of polar ice and glaciers worldwide. And that, buckaroos, is making sea levels go up.
And that, in turn, is threatening to flood – forever – some of our most magic and treasured wildlands: the national seashores called Cape Hatteras, Assateague, Padre Island, Cape Cod, Cumberland Island, Canaveral, Gulf Islands, Cape Lookout; and many hundreds of historical sites like the Wright Brothers National Memorial on Hatteras Island, N.C.; dozens of key national and state wildlife refuges like Chincoteague, Prime Hook, Bombay Hook, Sanibel Island, Aransas, Laguna Atascosa, Pelican Island, Hobe Sound, Archie Carr, St. Marks, St. Vincent, Wolf Island, Savannah, Texas Point and Boggy.
The National Park Service, on its Web site, says: “Living in one spot on the planet, we find it difficult to detect or ‘believe in’ global climate change. Weather is just so chaotic—one winter seems warm, another snowy, spring brings rain but sometimes drought. However, scientists examining the average weather conditions over a long period of time (i.e. climate) across the entire planet see a warming pattern emerging. During the last 50 years, it is likely that global temperatures were higher than at any time during the last 1,300 years. Scientists compare that temperature data with sea levels, the size and number of glaciers, the length of fire seasons and the condition of arctic permafrost and conclude that climate change is here today.”
Some folks try to convince readers and listeners that there is some sort of “debate” going on as to whether climate change is real or make-believe.
It is quite real.
“Climate Change Seen as Threat to U.S. Security.” That was the headline over an Aug. 8, 2009, New York Times article by John M. Broder. He began the piece by writing, “The changing global climate will pose profound strategic challenges to the United States in coming decades, raising the prospect of military intervention to deal with the effects of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics, military and intelligence analysts say.” (You can read the whole thing at
On Nov. 25, 2010, the Times, under this headline, “front-Line City in Virginia Tackles Rise in City,” reported, “As sea levels rise, tidal flooding is increasingly disrupting life here and all along the East Coast, a development many climate scientists link to global warming.
“But Norfolk is worse off. Situated just west of the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, it is bordered on three sides by water, including several rivers, like the Lafayette, that are actually long tidal streams that feed into the bay and eventually the ocean.
“Like many other cities, Norfolk was built on filled-in marsh. Now that fill is settling and compacting. In addition, the city is in an area where significant natural sinking of land is occurring. The result is that Norfolk has experienced the highest relative increase in sea level on the East Coast — 14.5 inches since 1930, according to readings by the Sewells Point naval station (at Norfolk).”
It’s clear to this lifetime conservationist and retired Air Force officer that many of our federal-level elected officials just don’t get it; oftentimes belittling our country’s natural heritage.
But to not take action – today – with legislation tackling the cause (the burning of fossil fuels) of global warming and thus protect invaluable parts of our national defense network is perplexing, to be kind about it.
I served a lot of days and years at Langley Air Force Base just north a bit from Norfolk. It too is endangered by sea-level rise. It too is threatened by sea-level rise. And so are oodles of other Defense Department coastal installations.
Climate change is still debatable? No, no it isn’t. It is real and it is past time for our leadership and us to deal with it.

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